Upfitting for Efficiency
For Jagger, the journey toward a more efficient fleet began four years ago when he became interested in the Lean management system credited to Toyota Motor Corp. The goal is to reduce waste by eliminating processes that offer no benefit to the customer. When he opened the back doors of his installers’ Chevrolet Safari and Astro vans, he saw shelves and bins that were full of junk.
So Jagger implemented a 5S project, a Lean process that stands for sorting, straightening, shining, standardizing and sustaining.
“We had techs digging through pieces of cable and broken parts,” he says. “We were shocked at how much extra stuff was in there. Now, they carry a lot less. Some of the vehicles don’t even have racks; they’re down to just plastic kits. We have found that, if there’s a space, people will find a way to fill it.”
His colleagues have taken a somewhat less scientific approach, relying on their own experience and that of their installers to keep their vehicles’ weight down.
“Our upfitter is Kaminski and Sons, here in Buffalo, and the manufacturer they use is Adrian Steel,” Creenan says. “By now, we know exactly what we want in there.”
Bonifas has taken advantage of certain car manufacturer perks to outfit his vans more cost-effectively, all the while keeping a keen eye on limiting excessive cargo.
“The Chevy vans, for quite a while, have offered a package that includes basic shelving and ladder racks for free,” says Bonifas. “We have cut down on inventory. We try not to keep too much extra equipment in the vehicles.”
Bonifas has worked for the company that his father, Robert, founded in 1968, for more than 30 years. By the mid-1980s, it was clear that the company’s fleet had grown to the size for which in-house maintenance was the only answer.
“We now have our own shop with three service bays,” he says. “That’s what works for us. Once you’ve been in the same vehicles for a number of years, you know what you need.”
Those same vehicles include diesel-powered Volkswagen Jettas and Passats, which now represent two-thirds of Alarm Detection Systems’ fleet. Bonifas has been buying VWs since the early ‘80s, when the Rabbit — precursor to the Golf — was getting 48 miles per gallon. Bonifas believed he had found the ideal service vehicle.
“It’s not all that common in the industry, but they’re much easier to park and for the jobs they’re used for they can carry all the equipment we need,” he says.
Creenan and Jagger both rely on local shops for repairs, and maintenance is a responsibility shared between management and the drivers. They point to the importance of ensuring that routine maintenance never goes unperformed.
“When we had problems, it always came back to a poor system,” Jagger says. “If you miss an oil change and end up having to replace the engine, your first instinct is to say, ‘What idiot didn’t notice it needed an oil change?’ Well, if you’ve got three or four guys driving one vehicle in 24 hours, who’s the idiot?”
Caring for a company vehicle also entails maintaining its exterior with the purpose of conveying professionalism and attention to detail. Companies that operate fleets across many industries elect to use prepaid programs with a local carwash business. In many cases, technicians receive a fleet membership card, thereby eliminating the hassle of handing out cash or a company credit card to each employee.
Provident elected to go a different route and had its own carwash built. The construction required the addition of some extra plumbing, especially drainage, but it has provided convenience for employees, along with ensuring the vehicle exteriors are not damaged.
“The driver is responsible for cleaning the vehicle after every shift,” Jagger says. “The vehicles can’t go through a regular carwash due to the vinyl wraps.”
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